The string of challenging games continues for the Bristol Central football team this week.
The Rams will come home after a three-week absence to take on CCC Division II-West foe Newington in a crucial game for both teams as they look to keep their slim hopes of a division championship alive.
Newington is a team on the rise after several years of struggling through coaching changes and lack of success on the field. The Indians served notice that they are a team to be reckoned with this year on the very first night of the season when they knocked off Windsor in a game that reverberated throughout the conference.
They backed that win up with an upset of previously-unbeaten Maloney two weeks ago and currently stand at 5-2, 2-1 in divisional play.
But while they have been generally a team on the rise, the Indians have also stumbled a few times against teams that they should have had the upper hand against, losing to Amity without scoring a touchdown in their alliance game and dropping a two-point decision to an inconsistent Platt team just before the bye break.
Central coach Jeff Papazian knows that his team will have its hands full tonight.
“They are another big challenge for us,” he said. “They’re 5-2 for a reason. They have some very good players up front and they’re tough at the skill positions. They have a quarterback who really makes things go for them. We are going to have to have him accounted for all night long.”
The Indians’ quarterback is Nick Pestrichello, who has been the cog that makes the attack go for them all season.
Pestrichello has passed for over 150 yards per game and will be a stiff test for a Central secondary that has improved in the past few weeks, but has had some trouble against strong passers this season.
“He throws the ball really well,” said Papazian, “and he has a lot of weapons at receiver and running back. And in the last few weeks he’s also become more a dual threat. He’s starting to make things happen with his feet as well, so we need to be ready.”
Offensively, the Rams continue to work to revamp the offense without starter Victor Rosa.
Shawn Rodriguez took advantage of his increased opportunities to carry the ball by putting up some big numbers last week and Galen Hickey has developed into a solid threat as he has become more accustomed to the quarterback role.
“Galen’s stepped in and really handled that role well,” said Papazian. “He’s done a real good job in practice again this week and we’re confident in his ability to step in and get the job done without Vic. We’ve had to make some changes to play to his strengths, but he did a really good job last week.”
Rodriguez had 28 carries and netted 215 yards and four touchdowns in his breakout game last week.
“We knew we’d have to get our offense from different places without Vic,” said Papazian, “and Shawn certainly answered the bell last week. He took full advantage of his increase in carries.”
That big game “wasn’t by accident,” Papazian added. “He’s a kid that works real hard every day. I think Shawn might be our best practice player. He gives his all every day and it was nice to see all that work pay off last week.”
The Rams have won all four meetings against Newington since the teams were reunited in Division II-West after the 2014 season, but tonight’s matchup is probably the most evenly matched meeting between the two clubs.
Both teams are 4-1 against common opponents. The Indians have been scoring at a higher pace, but the Rams have been stronger defensively.
With the forecast calling for cold and wind, weather could be a factor in tonight’s contest.
The Indians have relied heavily on the aerial attack through the season and wind could challenge that dominance. But the cold temperatures will make it more difficult to hold on to the ball and that could be a problem for a Central team that is still working to adjust to a new quarterback and offensive scheme.
“We’ve had a very good week of practice,” said Papazian. “I feel that we’ve prepared real well this week and we’ll be ready for another big challenge (tonight).”